From reality to fiction, Poe stresses the significance of death into his acclaimed tales. In Poe’s The Raven, after Lenore’s passing, Narrator A dreams and faces his subconscious dread with the raven. From Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, Narrator B visits the grim home of the Usher twins, Roderick and Madeline. When Madeline passes, the narrator becomes faced with deranged obstacles. Death affects the narrators from Poe’s texts The Raven and The Fall of the House of Usher, by depression, fear, and escape.
In The Raven, Narrator A experienced depression, fear, and escape because of Lenore’s death. He has an intense depression for Lenore’s death, which influences his loneliness and the meeting with the raven. He views Lenore as the light that was in his life metaphorically and romantically. The story starts with this man falling asleep while reading lore. The narrator dreaming is inferred because he was dozing and suddenly hears the tapping of his door. He assume it’s a possible visitor but he doesn’t investigate. By observing, we can see that the man is deeply lonely and depressed because he blatantly ignores a possible visitor. This shows that he isn’t finished with the grieving process and prefers loneliness. He recalls in “the bleak December”, that he read books to “surcease” his sadness for the deceased Lenore. (The Raven 348) The word surcease means to find relief as applied to Narrator A. We see that he uses literature and writing as a coping mechanism for loneliness and her passing. After this recollection, he hears his purple curtains rustling and investigates if there’s a visitor outside. He opens his entrance door and mentions how outside is submerged in darkness, it makes him ponder and fear his own thoughts. This darkness symbolizes the unknown, like the uncertain answers to his distressed thoughts. Quietly he says, “Lenore”, and he hears her name recited back to him. (The Raven 349) He’s only willing to confront this situation because he was frightened and hoped for reassurance. He hasn’t fully accepted her passing, resulting in him attaching events like this, to Lenore. This man has an unrealistic expectation that maybe he could contact her again. From the start, we learn that Narrator A is depressed because of Lenore’s passing.
Fear inflicts Narrator A gradually, as he takes the bird’s response, “nevermore” to heart. (The Raven 349) After hearing that “echo”, Narrator A burns with excitement towards his “tapped” window. Once again, he makes an association to it involving Lenore. He opens the window and a raven emerges into his house. This window symbolizes his vulnerable feelings and halt of repressing thoughts. Yet again, he’s embarking the unknown by not knowing how mournful memories will come into play. This raven then becomes an artistic aspiration to Narrator A as he becomes fond of the bird. This raven later perches on the Greek goddess of wisdom’s bust, Athena. The connection of this image props the idea of the bird having wisdom. This image encompasses if the narrator is rational or not. As a muse on Athena, it shows that the narrator’s creativity derives from the unknown and known.
Then, as he states any issue or question, the raven always responds with “nevermore”. (The Raven 350) Before this self-inflicted fear, he was rational enough to realize that ‘nevermore” could’ve been its only phrase. (The Raven 350) He makes logic of it by stating that the raven probably had a somber owner. By asking questions with the bird’s repetitive response, he perpetuates his own fears. For example, as Narrator A moved a velvet chair, the raven says its phrase. As the raven’s eyes struck the narrator’s being, it sent “him to feel afresh” the death of Lenore and she’ll ‘nevermore press the velvet lining of the seat” that he’s seated in. (Dhahir, Sanna) He views this as the bird being part of a higher power, specifically an angelic messenger. The narrator thinks that God sent him a messenger to aid him, in ridding his mourning. He asks the bird if he can “respite, nepenthe… and forget” about Lenore and her memory through its angelic power. (The Raven 350) He’s asking the bird to give him relief by forgetting her and the accompanying pain. The raven says its one quote and the narrator becomes overwhelmed with fright towards his future. He responds by calling the raven an oracle that’s either “bird or devil”. (The Raven 350) This man is so terrified but doesn’t care if the bird is demonic, he desperately wants reassurance.
Again, Narrator A asks the bird a question. He wonders if there is a “balm of Gilead?”, which refers to a medicine derived from a specific tree. (The Raven 351) He wants any availability of spiritual relief from his memories and mourning. Also, it is a biblical reference to the Testament’s Book of Jeremiah, as Jeremiah wants to spiritually heal Israel. It says nevermore again, and he asks his final question. He asks the raven if he will ever be with Lenore, in heaven. The bird said nevermore, and Narrator A became torn apart. The progression of these questions left Narrator A in a constant terror. No matter what he asked for, the bird would deny his wishes. He is shattered emotionally and violently refuses the bird’s reply. Through gradual questioning, the bird’s single response has instilled fear into Narrator A.
Exacerbated Narrator A wants escape from the thought of Lenore and the raven. After being told that he will never have an afterlife paradise with Lenore, he snaps. He immediately tells the raven to leave his abode. Narrator A wants no evidence of the bird or his loneliness compromised in his house. He says, “be that word our sign of parting” referring to the quote “nevermore’ (The Raven 351) The raven responds with “nevermore’ as the man says, “take thy beak from out my heart’. (The Raven 351) This shows that this bird will not leave the narrator ever. This bird personifies his thoughts of Lenore and loneliness. These thoughts will always be with him, haunting him. The raven’s shadow cast is said to be close to the narrator’s shadow. This image further shows the symbolism that they are unfortunately intertwined forever. He is trapped with the depression, fear, and escapism of Lenore’s death.
In Poe’s The Fall of The House of Usher, Narrator B’s depression, fear, and escape are affected by the deaths of Madeline and Roderick. This “self-consciously naïve” narrator tries to help Roderick maintain mentally stable. (Cook PLL5) Despite that, Narrator B felt immense dreariness by accompanying Roderick while Madeline was dying. Unlike in The Raven, Narrator B is depressed before a death occurred, just by atmosphere. Even from the first sight of the home, Narrator B experiences this dreariness. Narrator B visited Roderick to ease his paranoia by his sister, Madeline. Madeline had a disease, in which, she experienced frequent episodes of catalepsy, deterioration, and apathy. The night Narrator B arrived, Madeline had “succumbed to the destroyer’ and that was the last night he saw her alive. (The Fall of the House of Usher 337) She didn’t die yet, it could have been a possible episode or intention.
Roderick and the Narrator B became intimate after this, Narrator B wanted to comfort Roderick. He participates in Roderick painting pictures, reading texts, and listening to his guitar music. Roderick uses “music and art” as a coping mechanism he shares with Narrator B. (Bailey 127) For example, Narrator B painfully remembers Roderick’s playing of “the last waltz of Von Weber”. (The Fall of the House of Usher 337) Narrator B compares Roderick’s work to Fuseli’s dark, ominous, and naked paintings which encompasses similar qualities. This shows how Roderick’s artistic influence makes Narrator B shudder and in awe. Artistically, both Narrator B and Narrator A occupy themselves with literature. Rodrick’s condition gradually influenced Narrator B to believe Roderick’s superstitions. Just like Narrator A, Narrator B became increasingly superstitious. Through Roderick’s guitar and rhapsody performances, Narrator B learns of Roderick’s fantasies. Roderick created a rhapsody, The Haunted Place, which is a symbolic tale. In his lyrics, “good angels tenanted’ a king’s happy kingdom until “evil things” became present in the kingdom. (The Fall of the House of Usher 338-339) As a result, the kingdom, glory, and throne became forgotten. Roderick is most likely using the story as a metaphor for the downfall of the Usher lineage and Madeline’s health. Possibly it could be the long forgotten past and curse of the Ushers.
Roderick earlier stated that his condition was “a constitutional and a family evil” and couldn’t find a cure. (Poe, Edgar 336) They both believed there was a “sentience” inside this atmosphere and that it was an “influence” that shaped “the destinies of his family”. (The Fall of the House of Usher 340) The Haunted Palace made Narrator B feel like he finally understood Roderick’s mind. Later, Roderick tells Narrator B that Madeline is dead. He believes so because of her disease, incompetent physicians, and issues of burial. This led him to preserve her body for two weeks into a vault of within the house. This vault door was made of iron and had hinges that created sharp noises. So, Narrator B and Roderick carry Madeline’s body into this vault. As they do this, they gaze at Madeline and notice that her face and chest have a “faint blush”. (The Fall of the House of Usher 341). This shows that they both knew that Madeline was alive, as blush indicates liveliness. As Narrator B accompanies Roderick, depression over Madeline’s state manifests within them.
Narrator B experiences fear as Roderick confesses truth and madness. After a couple days of entombment, Narrator B noticed Roderick’s demeanor had changed. He neglected his hobbies, his voice spoke with a “trembling quiver”, completion became ghastlier, and looked like he lacked courage to confess a secret. (The Fall of the House of Usher 342) As Narrator B observed, Roderick had spoken terrorized utterances and listened for “some imaginary sound” for an hour. (The Fall of the House of Usher 342) Roderick’s increased paranoia made Narrator B become more superstitious and nervous. He finds himself in a “pitiful condition” as he “paces rapidly” up and down his apartment. (The Fall of the House of Usher 342) Roderick came in his room delirious, asking about the violent storm. Narrator B tries to calm Roderick through his favorite story, Sir Launcelot Canning’s Mad Trist. As Narrator B reads the story, they hear the story’s events in real life. They hear an “unusual screaming or a grating sound” just like Ethelred slaying the dragon in the story. (The Fall of the House of Usher 344) In the middle of a storm, the narrator and Roderick hear Madeline breaking out of her coffin and vault.
Roderick and Ethelred are a parallel, as Roderick tried to kill his sister, much like Ethelred’s dragon. After hearing that, Narrator B finds “extreme terror predominant” as he tries to maintain composure. (The Fall of the House of Usher 345) He sees Roderick waiting at the door in rocking in paralyzing paranoia as he waits for Madeline. This scares Narrator B though he tries to snap Roderick out of his trance. As Narrator B touched Roderick’s shoulder, Roderick had a disturbed smile, quietly uttered, and yelled profusely. Roderick deliriously snaps, “We have put her living in the tomb!” and that he heard her proceed around the house. (The Fall of the House of Usher 345) Fearful Narrator B tries to maintain composure as Roderick mentally unhinges over Madeline.
Narrator B escapes as Roderick and Madeline die and their house collapses. As Roderick has an episode, they see doors open with the “lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of Usher”. (The Fall of the House of Usher 346) Her demeanor had shown that her body was struggling, and she had bled. This shows that from escaping the coffin and vault, it impacted her body. After two weeks of attempting freedom, her body become weaker because of malnutrition and disease. There’s speculation if she escaped alive or that she is a ghost. She survived despite Roderick’s hypochondriac intentions. He attempts to kill her because he assumes the disease will end her anyway. Roderick gives his illness gratification because of his superstitions. As, Madeline enters through the door, she tramples over Roderick. Roderick dies because of his fear-induced panic attack. Madeline died because of her wounds, disease, and malnutrition. After witnessing Roderick and Madeline’s death, the house begins to break apart and crumble. He becomes scared, seeking safety, and realizes he has no more ties to the home of Usher. Then he watches as the zigzagged fissure noted on the outside wall cracked the home of the Usher’s in two as it became decimated to rubble. As the house is tearing apart, so are the twins and the sentience of Usher. While fleeing, “there was a long…shouting sound’ and it sounded “like the voice if a thousand waters’. (The Fall of the House of Usher 346) This “shouting sound’ is the Usher lineage and family curse ending. (The Fall of the House of Usher 346) By dealing with these suspenseful and destructive deaths, the narrator escapes to survive. The House of Usher immediately affects the narrator by influencing him to have feelings of gloom, to experience paranoia, and to escape the house.
By analyzing these stories, we observe these dark themes written by Poe. In The Raven, Narrator A is affected by the Lenore’s death and learns of the inevitable through the raven. Within The Fall of the House of Usher, Narrator B is affected by the delirium and destruction of the Usher lineage. Through death, the narrators of The Raven and The Fall of the House of Usher were affected through depression, fear, and escape.
- Cook, Jonathan A. “Poe and the Apocalyptic Sublime: ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’” Papers on Language & Literature, vol. 48, no. 1, 2012, pp. 3-44. Academic Search Premier.
- Dhahir, Sanna. “Literary Contexts in Poetry: Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven.’” Literary Contexts in Poetry: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” July 2007, Literary Reference Center.
- Bailey, J. O. “CRITICAL READINGS: What Happens in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’?” Critical Insights: The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Jan. 2010, pp. 119–143. Literary Reference Center.
- http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.bergen.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=4&sid=4c796e35-d237-4bce-8add-2f10acbd1e7f%40pdc-v-sessmgr02&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=lfh&AN=48267787 .
- Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The Literary Experience, Compact Ed. by Bruce John. Beiderwell and Jeffrey M. Wheeler, Boston: Wadsworth, 2008. 332–46.
- Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven.” The Literary Experience, Compact Ed. by Bruce John. Beiderwell and Jeffrey M. Wheeler, Boston: Wadsworth, 2008. 348–51.